Toyota Camry Hybrid CNG concept car, shown at 2008 Los Angeles Auto Show
Less than two weeks after a bipartisan bill was introduced in the Senate to provide tax credits for buyers of natural-gas vehicles, or NGVs, the House has passed an entirely different bill that funds research and development of NGVs.
Unlike the tax credits in Senate bill S.1408, which would encourage purchase of vehicles that run on natural gas, the House bill dedicates $150 million to the Department of Energy to investigate, develop, and demonstrate natural-gas vehicles over five years.
Given the political momentum behind alternative fuels in general, and lately natural gas in particular, a conference committee may now tackle the challenge of combining and reconciling the two bills.
The new House funding covers all vehicle types, from passenger cars to heavy trucks, and also includes money for natural-gas refueling stations. Surprisingly, it also seeks to encourage the use of natural-gas engines in hybrid vehicles.
Thus far, only a sole car with that powertrain has even appeared as an auto-show concept: the Toyota Camry Hybrid CNG, shown last fall at the Los Angeles Auto Show.
It used twin compressed natural gas (CNG) tanks in the trunk of a standard Camry Hybrid, whose gasoline 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and Hybrid Synergy Drive had been adapted to run on that fuel. Its aerodynamic enhancements distinguished it from the standard car.
Of the world's 10 million natural-gas vehicles, just 142,000 are on US roads. And you can buy only one NGV direct from a car dealer: the 2009 Honda Civic GX, of which roughly 2,000 are sold each year (more than half to fleets).
Natural gas emits less carbon dioxide per mile than petroleum fuels, and it can be produced in North America, making it one of several possible ways to lower greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles and increase energy security.
2009 Honda Civic GX Natural Gas Vehicle logo